Functional and evolutionary implications of protein and metal content of leafhopper brochosomes

Feimin Yuan, Minjing Su, Tiantian Li, Yalin Zhang, Christopher H. Dietrich, Michael D. Webb, Cong Wei

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Brochosomes derived from the specialized glandular segments of the Malpighian tubules (MTs) form superhydrophobic coatings for insects of Membracoidea, and have multiple hypothetical functions. However, the constituents, biosynthesis and evolutionary origin of brochosomes remain poorly understood. We investigated general chemical and physical characteristics of the integumental brochosomes (IBs) of the leafhopper Psammotettix striatus, determined the constituents of IBs, identified the unigenes involved in brochosomal protein synthesis, and investigated the potential associations among brochosomal protein synthesis, amino acid composition of food source, and the possible roles of endosymbionts in brochosome production. The results show that IBs are mainly composed of glycine- and tyrosine-rich proteins and some metal elements, which contain both essential and non-essential amino acids (EAAs and NEAAs) for insects, including EAAs deficient in the sole food source. All 12 unigenes involved in synthesizing the 12 brochosomal proteins (BPs) with high confidence are exclusively highly expressed in the glandular segment of MTs, confirming that brochosomes are synthesized by this segment. The synthesis of BPs is one of the key synapomorphies of Membracoidea but may be lost secondarily in a few lineages. The synthesis of BPs might be related to the symbiosis of leafhoppers/treehoppers with endosymbionts that provide these insects with EAAs, including those are deficient in the sole diet (i.e., plant sap) and could only be made available by the symbionts. We hypothesize that the functional modification of MTs have combined with the application of BPs enabling Membracoidea to colonize and adapt to novel ecological niches, and evolve to the dramatic diversification of this hemipteran group (in particular the family Cicadellidae). This study highlights the importance of evolutionary plasticity and multiple functions of MTs in driving the adaptations and evolution of sap-sucking insects of Hemiptera.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103962
JournalInsect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
StatePublished - Jun 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Biosynthesis
  • Diversification
  • Evolution
  • Evolutionary plasticity
  • Hemiptera
  • Malpighian tubules

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Insect Science
  • Molecular Biology
  • Biochemistry


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